Reactions to B.C. Budget 2017

Finance Minister Mike de Jong brought down a budget February 21 that includes record capital spending, cuts to MSP premiums, and projects a $300 million surplus.

From business groups on the phase-out of MSP premiums and PST on electricity, to First Nations on the increased funding for social services, reactions to the 2017-2018 provincial budget was mostly positive. For more details on budget 2017, click here.

(See also: Highlights of B.C. Budget 2017)

Here are some reactions:

NDP Leader John Horgan

Tuesday’s budget is an attempt to make up for years of “endless hikes” to MSP premiums and hydro bills, and starving public services, Horgan said. Since Premier Christy Clark was elected, Horgan said the average family in B.C. has paid $1,000 more just for electricity, MSP premiums and ICBC insurance. He added the boost to education funding comes after years of under-funding.

“Fifteen years of cuts from our kids’ classrooms, and robbed an entire generation of children of opportunity — and Christy Clark says ‘forget about it,’” Horgan said.

“The BC Liberals are using their cash surplus to make you forget there’s a deficit in the services people care about. The only thing Christy Clark cares about is winning the next election. After years of neglect why would anyone believe she is going to change now?”

BC School Trustees Association

The BCSTA applauded the new funding for education, but pointed out that the full bill is not yet in. The full funding implications of a Supreme Court ruling on class size and composition are still being worked out.

“The increased overall funding announced today is a significant step in the right direction, but school districts will be expecting substantially more money to address the full costs of the Supreme Court of Canada decision,” the BCSTA said.

Jock Finlayson, chief policy officer, BC Business Council

“It’s going to be a fairly good budget from the perspective of business,” Finlayson said. “We’re happy with the removal of the PST on electricity. That’s going to be helpful for a lot of the export industries.

“The reduction in the MSP premiums, that will actually help employers because a lot of employers do pay MSP on behalf of their staff. And generally, the government’s stewardship of the of the province’s finances has been quite prudent and that tends top be well received in the business community.

“Having said that, there continue to be challenges around the competitive environment in B.C., especially for export industries, so we’ll be pushing the government – whoever it is – to implement the recommendations of the Commission on Tax Competitiveness.”

Andy Yan, director, the City Program, Simon Fraser University

On funding for affordable housing, Yan said: "There’s really not much I can comment on because there’s really not much meat on that bone.… It’s a question of when. And I think that’s a really kind of key question – when and where. … There’s wasn’t anything new per se — it's sort of like the sidewalks in Coal Harbour this time of year: pretty empty."

On the role of real estate, he said: "I thought the budget breakdown was interesting. You see a quarter of the activity of GDP in B.C. is related to real estate. If you tip in the extra 6% from construction, arguably almost a third of our GDP is related to real estate.… Certainly gives a bit of optimism towards the role of real estate toward funding the province. I think it indicates we are increasingly counting on real estate to help fund the operations of the province."

Tom Davidoff, economist, associate professor, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia

On the MSP premium cuts, Davidoff said: “That’s fairly progressive, the benefit is concentrated for people who are lower and middle earners. I didn’t see much in terms of creating a dynamic economy. This was more, as I understood to the extent there were giveaways, it was sort of – you know, nice, but not stuff to stimulate economic activity. I would have liked to have seen rate cuts rather than cash giveaways, but that’s balanced against the progressivity of the MSP cut, which is nice.”

As for increasing the first-time homebuyer program threshold, he said: “I would call that mostly a waste of money, particularly in Metro Vancouver, where we’re supply-constrained. So to the extent that properties under a half-million-dollars are concentrated among first-time buyers, it’s almost a total waste of money that goes to the seller instead of the buyer.”

“I would have liked to see reductions in income and sales taxes, negotiated with Vancouver and Victoria, in exchange for property tax increases. That’s really what you need to do to get dynamic economies where workers can afford the housing. They didn’t go that route, which was disappointing.”

Susan Yurkovich, CEO, Council of Forest Industries

“We are pleased to see the PST on electricity will be phased out over the next two years,” Yurkovich said. “This tax relief is critically important for forest-dependent communities in B.C. COFI also appreciates the province’s continued commitment to diversifying our export markets.”

Paul Kariya, executive director, Clean Energy BC

Kariya said two items in the budget will promote the use of clean electricity, which is good for independent power producers: cutting the PST on power sales in half and the earmarking of $40 million for the BC Clean Energy Vehicle program which subsidizes the purchase of electric vehicles.

“Both of these initiatives will encourage increased use of electricity in B.C., which in turn will help lead to additional opportunity for our members and help the province meet its climate leadership commitments, both in the upstream natural gas sector and elsewhere across the economy,” Kariya said.

Ed John, Grand Chief, First Nations Summit

John welcomed the $800 million increase in funding over three years to the Ministry of Children and Families, saying it reflects the priorities he laid out in a report he issued recently.

“I am pleased with the financial commitments contained in today’s provincial budget which dedicates critical financial resources to address the 85 recommendations contained in my recent report and provide direct supports for indigenous children, parents and families.  While these financial resources are imperative to implementation of the report, we will not see the desired changes without strong and sustained leadership and action by Canada, B.C. and indigenous parents and communities to get this work done.”